The Ghost Writer
This is not the champagne glass you’re looking for.

Theatrical Release Date: 02/26/2010
Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Pugh, Jon Bernthal, James Belushi, Eli Wallach, Timothy Hutton

Director Roman Polanski’s legal troubles are like the elephant in the room. As a film critic, one is aware that there’s a giant pachyderm in the foyer but must separate the goings-on of the real world from the celluloid that is transcribed on screen. And as long as you do not try to reconcile your thoughts of the man with your thoughts of the film, “The Ghost Writer” is one of the better films to come out in 2010 so far.

The film is an adaptation of the book written by Robert Harris (seriously Hollywood, are there any original screenplays anymore?). My growing pet peeve aside, at least Harris is in charge of delivering the screenplay, which is usually the best way to make sure a novel isn’t shredded to pieces in its transition to film. Small but important details like never learning the Ghost’s name, which is appropriate for a man who lives by writing for other people and never adding his name to the credits, could easily have been lost if another writer had come in and applied his take to the source material.

The story concerns a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) charged with polishing up the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). Complicating things are the shady death of the previous ghost writer, Brosnan’s smart but unpredictable wife (Olivia Williams) and war crime charges being brought against the ex-PM in conjunction with ‘coercing’ information from terrorists.

Spotting the not so subtle comparisons between this fictional former head of state and Tony Blair won’t require much more than the casual observance of world events these past few years. There are accusations of waterboarding known terrorists in order to prevent future attacks or to round up more of their brethren and, more specific to his real life counterpart, Brosnan’s character is also thought of as a puppet for the U.S. government who followed America into a war simply because he was asked to do so.

Although McGregor is simply there to smooth over the writing of the memoirs, he can’t help but be sucked into the shadowy underbelly of the people he’s now surrounded by and his character is akin to our representative in the film, trying to ascertain the facts and piece together the puzzle. He plays it fairly well, portraying enough intelligence to allow us to believe he could jump through all the flaming hoops without catching alight but also using enough impetuousness and impulsiveness to get himself into some bad situations along the way.

Olivia Williams makes for a formidable former First Lady, imbued with a mind like a steel trap but also the guile of a career politician. Brosnan does a deceptively good job with his character, showing McGregor one side of the character when it suits him and shifting to another gear once the truth begins to spill out. Kim Cattrall and Tom Wilkinson provide effective supporting characters that add more avenues for the story to careen through and I’m nearly convinced there isn’t an Eli Wallach cameo I don’t enjoy.

All of the production elements behind the film are done at a high level, from cinematography to editing, and it’s easy to see why the Berlin Film Festival nominated this film as one of the nominees for the prestigious Golden Bear (though this year’s winner was “Bal” by director Semih Kaplanoglu). Nonetheless, Polanski has yet again crafted an excellent film which only heightens the drama between his personal and professional life.

“The Ghost Writer” is more of a political intrigue film than a thriller but if you want a bit of a mystery and are choosing between this and “Shutter Island“, Polanski’s latest wins. A 3.5 out of 5, avid filmgoers will see the last twist coming a few miles away but the clever script and good performances mixed in with its allusions to recent American politics keep it interesting and it’s nice to watch a film clearly aimed at adults, rather than another empty shell pandering to the lowest common denominator.